Self Assessment

I started this PhD program because I wanted the academic challenge and the growth that results from overcoming the challenge. I've been pleased by the development I've experienced in these first few semesters. I'm aware of how my thinking is changing and how my perspective is shifting. I'm looking forward to continued scholarly advancement in the future as I continue to improve my ability to critically engage with literature, produce scholarly writing, and articulate my research for others.
Unsurprisingly, I have been one of those students who was interested in basically everything. Narrowing down a proper research focus and agenda has taken more time than I would have initially liked. Some of my earlier coursework and assignments could have been more beneficial and more valuable if I had at that time the focus, perspective, and knowledge I have now. I understand that it's normal for PhD students to change topic and focus area early on in the program so this experience isn't out of the ordinary. Settling into my research topic has required a lot of reading and a lot of "puzzle work" to determine how all of my interests fit together into something more cohesive. I am confident that I've found a trajectory that will carry me through the degree program and beyond.

Program Assessment

I feel that our program, especially the sequence of the earlier coursework, "jumps the gun" when it comes to the major assignments we produce. It took me 2.5 semesters to solidify a proper research focus and agenda that can actually move forward. While I imagine that some of my peers have settled into a topic more quickly, I know that not all of us have. We know that changing topics as a PhD student is common, maybe even expected, during the early stages. With that in mind, I look to the tasks found in the early coursework with some concern.
I don't know that it's a terribly valuable exercise to have me write fake "research proposals" on subjects and topics that I will not push forward for development or advancement. In my first year, I've written 2 or 3 full research proposals and none of them are of any use to me now except as samples of work. One could argue that I should have picked my topic sooner or faster and then this wouldn't be a problem...but I'm arguing that we know PhD students frequently change topics and should therefore design the major deliverables accordingly. Similarly, completing a mock-IRB for a project that isn't real and won't be useful was not the best use of instructional time. I spent a semester created an "educational innovation" that has basically no bearing on my work now. If I had my research ideas more settled in place then, I could have used that course to develop, test, and refine my VR intervention. Many of my peers also spent the semester in the studio course creating "innovations" that are not useful for us now. Some were entirely impractical or impossible from the start.
Certainly these tasks represent valuable scholarly skills. They are real things that researchers and scholars have to do. I'm not going to say we shouldn't do these kinds of assignments. But I do believe they shouldn't come first. I would have found a stronger introduction to the scholarly branch of LDT to be more valuable early on. Guided exploration through the foundational literature in our field could help all of us potentially settle into appropriate topics (and determine if we are "redoing" work that's already been done) more quickly. Major development and production should hold off until a student has (or is more likely to have) a more concrete agenda.
Put simply, I don't think we are "onboarding" our students into the existing scholarship of LDT effectively. Our early coursework offers so much value that many of us aren't able to capitalize on because of the sequence and cadence. Seeing the kinds of "innovations" my peers have developed, the number of times we've all shifted topics and interests, and the amount of value lost to assignments that just seem to come too early for us, I wonder if we can better support students toward solidifying their foundation first, before asking students to produce work that often can't be carried forward.